Cyrano

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By Philip Pearce

IT’S INTERESTING the way that PacRep’s current season takes two central heroes of early 20th century European drama, Peter Pan and Cyrano de Bergerac, and gives them each a new look. Plus the frank theatricality of a handful of actors playing a whole lot of the characters involved in the stories of their lives.

In the June/July production of Peter and the Starcatcher twelve actors played more than 30 roles in a swashbuckling prequel to the August/July musical version of Peter Pan.

Now there’s an exciting new version of Cyrano, which tells the well-loved tale but pares nearly 50 speaking roles down to 27 to be played by a cast of nine.

When you think about it, Peter and Cyrano are cut from the same mold. Both are chock full of swaggering self-confidence, both are supernaturally brilliant swordsmen, both are sworn enemies of the social status quo. “I want,” Cyrano explains at one point, “to reduce the number of bows I have to make in a day.” Peter doesn’t want to grow up and have to make that kind of decision in the first place.

Like many another theater addict of my generation, I’ve always loved Rostand’s three hour, five-act marathon of moonlit romance, spontaneous poetry and dashing swordplay. But Michael Hollinger’s slick new translation and the fresh two-act adaptation of the text he shares with Aaron Posner make for a fast-paced and thoroughly satisfying evening in the Outdoor Forest Theater.

In a recent interview, Hollinger notes that the original script’s world of 17th century Paris isn’t exactly familiar territory to 21st century audiences. “It was important to me that the play speak to us, here and now, and therefore I made myself the litmus test of what would be accessible, immediate, funny, poignant, and so on.”

So there’s little left of Rostand’s blank verse or the sections of social comment on French society of the 1600’s. What comes across vividly is the central ironic dilemma of a man with a face so unsightly he can only use his supreme genius for poetic love talk to push his lady love into the arms of a handsome but tongue-tied rival.

Pacific Rep executive director Stephen Moorer is an active, touching and consistently funny Cyrano. He mines every vein of wit in the new script and catches most of the underlying pathos without ever slipping into the lilting Gielgud/Burton attitude and voice adopted by some Cyranos I’ve seen. His dying attack against social convention and phony officialdom is no reflective elegy, it’s a ruthless sword fight to the death.

This new version makes it easier to explore character motivations and navigate some of the finer points of 17th century French civic and military life by expanding the role of Le Bret. He’s no longer just Cyrano’s trusty military buddy; he’s a wise narrator who steps out of the action and into a spotlight to explain things directly to us ticket holders. It works admirably. Unlike Rostand’s audience but just like Shakespeare’s, we’ve reached a point where we like it when somebody pauses the story and comments on what’s going on. As always, Jeffrey T Heyer is clear and believable in the role.

The remainder of the players are busy and excellent, moving nimbly through two or three roles apiece. Jennifer Le Blanc is a beautiful, passionate Roxane, so swept up in a duet of Cyrano’s poetry and Gascon-cadet Christian de Neuvillette’s good looks that it takes her fourteen years to discover she’s been in love with the soul of one and only the body of the other.

Justin Gordon is an appealing Christian, a fresh military recruit who’s closely in touch with his feelings but clueless in expressing them. I liked his last-minute wide-eyed explosion of terror at having to woo the lovely Roxane, even coached by the eloquent Cyrano.

D Scott McQuiston is a bubbly and comically endearing Ragueneau, a pastry chef and would-be poet, who manages (in the interest of trimming down cast size) to shout protests at his wife for wrapping her pastries in the texts of his verses without her ever actually appearing on stage.

A small and energetic Andrew Mazer is convincingly tipsy as a bibulous cadet named Ligniere.  Lewis Rhames is willowy and comically inept as a plumed Parisian popinjay named De Valvert, one of a string of candidates for the hand of the fair Roxane. More purposeful and pompous is Michael Storm as another suitor, De Guiche, commander of Cyrano and Christian’s Gascon battalion. The versatile and surprising Garland Thompson moves effortlessly through five different roles, most notably in drag as Roxane’s busybody and sweet-toothed duenna and then in Rosary and wimple as the chatty, broom-wielding Sister Marthe.

Kenneth Kelleher’s direction manages, again and again, to make the nine-member cast look and act like a big crowd. My favorite segment of Act 1 is a sequence that doesn’t even happen in the old Rostand version. Cyrano, high and happy at some fond attention from his beloved Roxane, learns that a hundred sword-wielding thugs are planning a midnight ambush at the Porte de Nesle. He vows to bare his sword and carve them up, single handedly, one by one. Rostand’s script simply reports his success after the fact. Kelleher, Moorer and fight director Justin Gordon show it happening in a shadowy ballet of flashing swordplay which proves that perfectly timed farce can be both hilarious and beautiful.

I loved the show, but I had minor problems with the set design. The big outdoor theater stage allows for a lot of depth and width. But is the backstage area so limited that ingredients of Patrick McEvoy’s settings need to be stored in plain view instead of waiting in the wings to be wheeled on when required? The big quarter moon awaited its appearance in the balcony/garden scene from a position way upstage. And an unchanging background of blue-green wooden fretwork units gave a sense of clutter.

That said, it’s a must see, but take plenty of coats and blankets. It continues through October 15th.

 

 

Weekly Magazine

THIS WEEK

SHAKESPEARE’S ROMEO & JULIET opens in the Grove at DeLaveaga Park in Santa Cruz. TRIAL BY JURY by G&S at Cabrillo College Thursday only. PIANIST YOONIE HAN (above) plays Reynaldo Hahn* in Aptos. DJANGO ALL-STARS at Kuumbwa. BACH FESITIVAL continues in Carmel. For links to these and other live performance events, click our CALENDAR 

SANTA CRUZ CHAMBER PLAYERS 2018-19 SEASON

VIOLINIST ROY MALAN is concert director for Brahms in September. AMERICAN VOICES in November. WILD COAST BRASS in January. VIOLINIST REBECCA JACKSON is concert director in February. DEREK TAM will lead “Chinese Baroque” in March. PIANIST IVAN ROSENBLUM directs “Madness and Music” in April. All concert pairs at Christ Lutheran Church in Aptos. 

*REYNALDO HAHN PLAYS AND SINGS HIS OWN

MARIN ALSOP LAUNCHES BERNSTEIN CELEBRATION

SHE CONDUCTS Chicago Symphony Orchestra with violinist Joshua Bell in a recreation of Bernstein’s original NY Philharmonic program at Ravinia. Click HERE  

MONTEREY’S DALÍ17 MUSEUM BEING SUED

THE FUNDACIÓ GALA-SALVADOR DALÍ in Figueres, Spain has sued the museum Dalí17 in Monterey, over its use of the artist’s name and imagery. Click HERE  

WHY HAMILTON IS THE OPERA FOR OUR TIME

Click HERE  

INGMAR BERGMAN TURNS 100

SWEDISH THEATER/FILM DIRECTOR always chose his music with great care. Woody Allen has been a notable imitator. Criterion to issue 39 Bergman films in November on Blu-ray. A bargain at $300. Click HERE  

A LIFE AS A CARTOON

TARA STRONG has a voice everyone has heard.

FRESH REVIEWS

THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME in Carmel. Click HERE

JS BACH’S MATTHÄUS-PASSION at Carmel Bach Festival. Click HERE

NEXT WEEK

CABRILLO FESTIVAL OF CONTEMPORARY MUSIC opens in Santa Cruz. CHOREOGRAPHER’S SHOWCASE presents new dance works at SpectorDance in Marina. THE FANTASTICKS opens at Monterey Peninsula College. SINGER/TRUMPETER Bria Skonberg comes to Kuumbwa. THE PRODUCERS takes Cabrillo Stage. THE FLICK opens at Hartnell College.

FOLLOW US ON TWITTER: @PerfArtsMtyBay

Scott MacClelland, editor; Rebecca CR Brooks, associate editor

 

CBF’s St Matthew Passion

WALTZING IN GRIEF

By Scott MacClelland

THE MOST POPULAR individual pieces in JS Bach’s Matthew Passion oratorio are the big choral settings and the solo arias, all in triple meter—12/8, 6/8, 3/8, 3/4. The opening chorus, with its ‘Q and A’ antiphonal choral dialogue, the finale to Part I, “O Mensch, bewein dein Sünde gross” (“O Man bewail thy grievous sin”) and the final chorus of the entire piece, “Wir setzen uns mit Tränen nieder” (“We sit down in grief”), along with the especially beloved solo arias, “Erbarme dich, mein Gott” (“Have mercy, Lord”) and “Mache dich, mein Herze, rein” (“Make my heart clean of sin”) are all in triple meter.

Why is that? How do you waltz when you ‘sit down in grief’? Most of Bach’s Matthew Passion setting is in a meter of four, certainly including the chorales that interrupt the narrative in favor of the ‘faithful’ as they react, often with dismay, to the events of the unfolding narrative tragedy. Yet for some reason Bach chose to direct the most deeply emotional reactions to that narrative in dance rhythms, gentle lullabies and dreamy ballets, the better to soothe the grief of inevitable doom. Here, the passion of Christ is not relieved by his resurrection.

Paul Goodwin’s orchestra and Andrew Megill’s chorus were divided in two. They came together for those moments that demanded the greatest weight, including the chorales and ‘crowd’ scenes. Each of the two orchestras, arranged in a semicircle, gave the first rows to the wind instruments, with the strings behind, each with its own concertmaster. Both had their own continuo sections and organs. Tuning was in Baroque practice, A = 415 hertz, giving the overall sound a deeper, mellower character. Among the instruments were such exotica as viola da gamba and oboes da caccia.

Rufus Müller, the Evangelist dedicated to the Matthew liturgy exclusively, sang the entire narrative from memory. Timbral variations across his range produced at least three different vocal qualities. The four soloists came into their expressive own in the longer second part of Bach’s setting. Mezzo soprano Meg Bragle struggled a bit in the first part, perhaps because of the lower tuning. Tenor Thomas Cooley and baritone John Brancy especially rose to the occasion in their second-part arias. The competent soprano was Mhairi Lawson. The character roles—Jesus, Peter, Judas, Pilate, etc.—were drawn from Megill’s Chorale.

The opening chorus, “Kommt, ihr tochter” (“Come ye daughters”) omitted the familiar chorale melody, “O Lamm Gottes unschuldig” (“O lamb of God, most holy”), usually sung by a children’s chorus, that overtops the two antiphonal choirs. Conspicuous by its absence, I raised the question with Megill who explained that a 1736 manuscript edition implies that the ripieno soprano line was removed, without the words, into the organ. In this case, he told me, into the two organs. This crucial melody was MIA—missing in action.         

David Gordon’s projected English supertitles tended to lag behind the sung German, indeed by several pages when the performance resumed after intermission.

Notwithstanding those who put faith above humanity, Bach himself included, his Matthew Passion stands as the most persuasively charged work of humanity in Western music. When paced well, its allure is both intensely emotional and profoundly cathartic. Like the Christ himself, I doubt that Bach fully understood the depth he had plumbed.

This performance timed in at two hours and 42 minutes. (A justifiably famous and well-celebrated 1960-61 recording conducted by Otto Klemperer, with much larger orchestra and chorus, added more than an hour.) This afternoon, I give credit to Paul Goodwin for keeping the piece moving forward with energy and momentum and an overall Baroque character.

Artistically, the Bach Festival is more like Bach’s own: provincial. Wikepedia’s updated entry on Goodwin makes the festival sound like an afterthought to his international career: “He has been appointed the Music Director and Conductor of the Carmel Bach Festival from the 2011 season.”